Florida State will be a contender for the preseason college football playoffs, thanks in large part to the unusual number of NFL prospects who have stayed, including quarterback Jordan Travis, receiver Johnny Wilson, and defensemen Jared Verse and Fabien Lovett.

Her choices made it easy to overlook the return of another character who was just as crucial to the Seminole rebirth.

Offensive coordinator Alex Atkins.

“He’s a great coach and a phenomenal recruiter,” said quarterbacks coach Tony Tokarz. “He will always have opportunities.”

Related: FSU Football: How Mike Norvell ‘Noles slowly and then suddenly rebuilds

Atkins had at least two of these in the last hiring cycle. His name came up early in searches for the head coach in Charlotte, where Atkins spent the 2019 season as offensive coordinator. It also came up at USF before the Bulls hired another up-and-coming Power Five offensive coordinator, Tennessee’s Alex Golesh.

Atkins said the nature of these conversations can be exaggerated, and there are other important factors to consider as well, such as the fact that his wife loves Tallahassee.

Dillan Gibbons became the first FSU offensive lineman to earn first-team All-ACC honors since 2016.

[ MATTHEW HINTON | AP (2022) ]

“(If) they call me, they’re calling the wrong person,” Atkins said last week as the ‘Noles prepared to begin spring training. “That’s bad recruiting on their part.”

Regardless of how seriously he was considered (or how seriously he considered them), it’s easy to see why schools would be interested. Though the success of his position group, the offensive line, is usually difficult to quantify, FSU’s improvement over his three seasons is clear:

• In the last year before Atkins arrived (2019), FSU averaged just 3.8 yards per carry (96th nationally) despite having Cam Akers as a standout defender. Last season, the Seminoles averaged 5.5 yards per rush (eighth nationally).

• FSU went from 3.7 sacks per game (No. 125) before Atkins’ arrival to 1.5 (No. 38).

• The Seminoles ranked 81st last season with 5.9 tackles allowed per game. But that’s still a big improvement from 2019 (8.54 per game, No. 126 nationally).

• Clearwater Central Catholic alumnus Dillan Gibbons became FSU’s first all-ACC offensive lineman since Roderick Johnson in 2016, while three others received at least honorable mentions from all conferences.

Atkins also helped recruit Keiondre Jones (Auburn), Jeremiah Byers (UTEP) and Casey Roddick (Colorado) – three transfers totaling 82 career starts. With those new signings and the continued development of returnees like Robert Scott Jr. and Maurice Smith, it’s easy to picture FSU’s offensive line as a strength of a preseason top-10 team. That thought would have been unthinkable four years ago, but the expectations of the Noles and Atkins unit are justified.

Related: How the state of Florida became a top travel destination for transfer portals

He does not care.

Maurice Smith (right) is one of the notable returns on the Florida State offensive line.

[ LYNNE SLADKY | AP (2022) ]

“It raises expectations (for) not only the players but also the coaches to do their best,” Atkins said. “You are in a place that has expectations. That’s why we’re in this job, because you want to be where it’s important.”

Listen to Atkins long enough and you can see how important those expectations are to him. He doesn’t deny his interest in becoming a head coach at some point, but he doesn’t want to be like others who, out of ego or ambition, rush into something that “maybe wasn’t the right business”.

So it’s easy to assume that Atkins decided to stay because the right opportunity hasn’t presented itself yet. Only he doesn’t see it that way at all.

“I’m grateful that they’re allowing me to stay here,” Atkins said. “That’s a difference …

“I’m in the state of Florida. I don’t know why this is somehow overlooked. I’m on one of the top college football programs in the country that’s been making a lot of noise, you know what I’m saying? It’s hard to compete with this program when it’s running.”

and it Is is now rolling into its biggest season in years, thanks in part to the return of a top assistant whose work is not yet done.

Related: FSU fires warning shot at ACC: “Something has to change”

The Seminoles announced a $1 million donation Thursday from coach Mike Norvell and his wife Maria. The money will be split between a fund for Dunlap Football Center (which broke ground in December), the Bowden Society Facility Fund and the sports nutrition department.

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